Thursday, October 30, 2008

Keep Them On Your Side - Book Review

I just finished reading “Keep Them on Your Side” by Samuel B. Bacharach. It was an interesting book. It was the second of two – the first being about how to get people on your side in the first place. I thought a variety of things were interesting about this book.
-It was almost like a mini version of half the business classes I took in grad school. It was a good reminder of many of the things I have learned.
-While it was not a called out reference, it utilized a four frames framework similar to Bolman and Deal. These frames; Structural, Human Resource, Political and cultural, are different ways to look at a challenge or situation and will help determine the best approach. This book essentially moves through 4 different areas that you have to navigate through to maintain momentum.
-This book speaks of managerial competence and political competence. A politically competent leader may be able to gather many supporters, but unless they are managerially competent, they won’t be able to implement their plan. A successful leader needs to be both.
-To sustain momentum you must: Maintain (resources and capacity), Monitor (evaluate or develop) and make adjustments, Motivate (direct or facilitate), and Mobilize.
-What you want to accomplish must take all the variables into account. A situation where there are no resources may actually spur great amounts of creativity, and may spur ideas that are very cost effective. Yet a different situation arises when they have ample resources. Either can produce good ideas, and either carries risk. The ideas here are very applicable to theatres. Many theatre operate with very scarce resources, spurring innovation and great technical solutions with low cost (especially low materials cost, since labor in these situations can be a dramatic variable in cost of it is hourly and not salary. Yet on the other hand, in a commercial scene shop, resources are adequate, materials are available, and labor is available. Innovative technical solutions arise out of this situation as well, but aren’t as cost effective.
-Autonomy versus consistent processes. Turbulent times require more autonomy, but the more standardized the process is the faster and easier the task can be. Theatre, by nature, requires a certain about of autonomy. Technicians need to be skilled enough to analyze a situation – paired of course to their skill level, and make a decision on what is required and follow through. A job lead on the job or a TD needs to have good problem solving skills and be able to have the authority to do what needs to be done. Yet, a series of consistent processes will help that individual make a good decision. The more the solution is of the “text-book” variety, the easier and faster it will be to implement. Where I work now has a series of “shop standards”. They don’t apply to every situation, and shouldn’t – but it is a standard of how we typically build a standard flat, platform, and so forth. Why reinvent the wheel on everything – save the innovation for situations that require it.
-Quality versus productivity… and then there is value. Here are three different ways of evaluating. Is it quality that is require or quantity? What is quality? Quantity is easy – I need 30 flats in two weeks. Easy to define, easy to measure, easy to check off when complete. But how do you determine quality? It is very subjective, what is great to one person isn’t good at all to another. Then there is value. Value might be a decent product for little money, or a higher price, but full service. Something low quality to one person might still be valuable to someone else. Value is not always based on economy.
-Criteria for evaluation and expectations is very important to sustaining momentum. Without criteria spelled out there is no way to effectively evaluate progress or process.
-While you need to be able to jump in and make a correction, over correcting can stop momentum, it can lead to an expectation that another change will be coming soon and lead to poor work.
-“A culture of motivation addresses three critical sociopsychological needs: the need to learn and problem solve; the need for affiliation; and the need for reaffirmation.” P 150.
-Another subject the book touches on is single loop versus double loop learning, though not in that terminology. The author refers to it as reflexive versus reflective thinking. A reflexive thinker is more reaction based, and will tend to make small refinements in the process. A reflective person may redo the system and really look at the project globally and rethink what it is all about. There is a place for both. Once a system is in place, minor adjustments should be made. However at a certain point minor adjustments and refinements don’t do the job and a reorientation is needed. They key to know when to use each method.
-Politically you should look out for support, dissent, opposition, resistance. This is a scale to judge where people stand against your idea or project. Once you determine where they stand, you can determine an action plans to work with those members of your team or business.

All in all, I thought it was easy to read, and very informative. It contains lots of information. I think it is a useful read for a TD because within a production everyone is theoretically on your side, and what we really have to worry about is getting the show moved through the shop. Momentum is important. Many books seem to talk about getting started, but I liked that this one focused on keeping the ball rolling.

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